Cape district tackles proposed cuts

Monday, December 15, 2003

The reasons for the budget shortfall in Cape Girardeau School District have been hashed out again and again: lower-than-expected local tax revenue, withholdings from Gov. Bob Holden to balance the state budget, the district's hold-harmless status that freezes the level of state funding.

Now the time has arrived to hash out the toughest part: what gets cut.

A 109-member task force -- community members and school district employees -- started the process with meetings over a two-week period in October and November, tossing out all sorts of ideas until the best ones could be plucked out for a final report.

Superintendent Mark Bowles went through those ideas to find the ones he believed could work the best. A comparison of the two documents -- the task force's recommendations and Bowles' final report to the school board -- reveals many similarities and some differences.

The choices weren't easy for the task force or the superintendent. Now it is up to school board members to start making some choices that, after they are finished, will result in at least some district employees being out of work.

The goal is to eliminate $1.3 million. Originally, the district had planned to cut $2.2 million from a $35 million budget. Last week, Bowles said he will make cutback recommendations to the school board for $800,000 less than that amount.

"Our goal was to judge how much we could cut and do minimal damage," he said. "This has allowed us to put off going broke for a few years while the state and local assessed valuation have time to come around."

More cuts will come if the state's economy and local tax revenue doesn't increase, Bowles said.

Some elements of the plan being considered by the school board:

More than half of the $1.36 million in savings -- $750,000 -- comes from the elimination of 27 full or part-time positions throughout the district, including teachers, counselors, librarians and custodians.

Those who don't lose their jobs will have their salaries frozen at the current school year's level and will lose benefits such as dental and life insurance.

Students at Central High School would have to pay a participation fee for extracurricular activities, which officials believe will save around $25,000.

The operational budgets for nonathletic extracurricular activities and for athletics at both CHS and Central Junior High School will be cut by 10 percent for an estimated savings of $24,200.

The central office plans to eliminate the director of personnel position, a technology technician and several administrative assistants.

The school board officially will receive the recommendations at its regular meeting tonight. Board president Sharon Mueller is soliciting input from those who feel strongly about a particular cut and have factual arguments against it. She is inviting them to e-mail her at smuellerk@hotmail.com.

Anyone concerned about education in Cape Girardeau should contact Mueller or attend school board meetings -- there is one at 6 p.m. tonight at the board office on Clark Street -- before the Jan. 26 final vote.

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